Robert Kirby: Sometimes sitting in the pews needs to take a back seat

Robert Kirby

Last Sunday, the Rose Summit Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held services in the street.

Our bishopric formally invited us to leave our homes at 7 p.m. and passingly engage with one another. Brother Hawk, first counselor in the bishopric, sent out this email to the congregation:

“We ask that social distancing guidelines not be maintained through the application of gunfire, but instead be followed out of concern for others. This will continue until the weather turns cold in the fall or the police are called.”

Anyway, something like that. I can’t remember the whole thing verbatim. The point is that our street meeting was a success.

Ward members I had not seen since the “Great Apothecary” (quarantine) passed by on the sidewalk. We fellowshipped at a distance.

Me • “Hey, Fred. Hey, Debbie. Good to see you’re not dead.”

Debbie • “We heard your wife broke your arm.”

Me • “Horse[dung]! I fell off a ladder.”

Fred • “Yeah, yeah. She probably pushed it over.”

The stroll meeting ended with 12-year-old neighbor Ethan “Evil” Clegg and I throwing things at each other across the street. All told, it was one of the best church meetings I’ve been to in recent memory. I got to see people I care about, and it was interesting enough to keep me awake.

There comes a time when gathering for worship in the traditional sense is not only inconvenient but also damn dangerous. A lot of this is open for personal interpretation.

Some governments have referred to religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic as “nonessential.” This rankles some Mormons, who consider the government bossing us into suspending congregational worship as detrimental to God’s plan.

“Never again,” said one high-level church leader, “must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”

This, of course, completely dismisses a previous directive to have “home-centered church,” to make our homes the primary venue of worship and church the place you go to get more spiritual fuel.

Personally, I think there are plenty of times when the freedom to congregate can be abused. Congregational worship can be just as injurious to faith as a government ban.

For example, the fundamental right to worship God in a crowd should be trivialized in the face of a zombie attack. The same goes for an extraterrestrial invasion, proximity to a volcano eruption, and simple-mindedness.

That last one was a nod toward church being a place that can, at times, deprive people of basic human rights. After all, religious zealots used to worship by choosing some luckless congregant to sacrifice.

Yes, it has been a while since humanity resorted to that ritual as a fundamental part of worship.

What about plural marriage and racial-worthiness profiling? The government didn’t demand Mormons implement those two “doctrines.” They were supposedly built on the word of God and defended as our fundamental right to worship as we choose. And they turned out to be a lot more detrimental to worshipping than not going to church.

Church and government have a lot in common when it comes to sometimes promoting bad ideas to keep everyone “safe.” The most injurious thing we can do is surrender all our wits to either one.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.

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